Thomas Tuchel admits Chelsea face an uncertain future as doubts swirl over how the European champions will even pay their wage bill after Russian owner Roman Abramovich was hit with UK sanctions.
The Premier League club put a brave face on events as they returned to action on Thursday, just hours after the billionaire’s assets were frozen.
Chelsea fans chanted Abramovich’s name during their 3-1 victory at relegation-threatened Norwich as they tightened their grip on third spot in the English top-flight.
England midfielder Mason Mount posted a picture of himself on Instagram with the message “For the fans!” while fellow goalscorer Trevoh Chalobah dedicated the win to “every Chelsea fan across the globe!”
But the upbeat words hide deep unease over what will unfold in the coming weeks.
Abramovich was one of seven oligarchs targeted by Britain on Thursday in action taken in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, all of whom were described as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
The 55-year-old had already announced his intention to sell Chelsea, with a host of potential buyers declaring their interest in a club that has won 19 major trophies since he bought the side in 2003.
The government is still open to a sale but would have to approve a new licence, on the proviso no profit would go to the Russian, who has bankrolled the club to the tune of around £1.5 billion ($2 billion).
In the meantime, the London club will have to operate under stringent new rules, which prohibit the sale of tickets and effectively place them under a transfer ban.
Senior defenders Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, and Andreas Christensen are all out of contract this summer, with their futures up in the air as the club cannot agree new contracts.
Tuchel said he was happy still to be at Stamford Bridge but admitted the future was shrouded in uncertainty as he tries to focus on events on the pitch.
“The situation will not go away — maybe tomorrow it will change again, but it will not go away,” said the German, who arrived at Chelsea in January last year.
“I am still happy to be here and still happy to be manager of a strong team. I know there is a lot of noise around.”
Chelsea’s women’s team was also in action on Thursday, winning 4-1 at West Ham despite the distractions.
There’s no denying it’s a difficult day, but I think it’s important that we give it time,” manager Emma Hayes told Sky Sports News.
– Sponsor uncertainty –
The club are already feeling the impact of the sanctions, with shirt sponsor Three suspending its deal and reports suggesting global sportswear giant Nike are considering walking away from their huge kit agreement.
But the club’s official training wear partner Trivago said Friday that it was sticking with Chelsea despite the “challenging” situation.
“We are looking forward to a transition of ownership as soon as possible and want to support the club in this process,” it said in a statement.
“We will provide any update to our business relationship if and when appropriate.”
Football finance expert Kieran Maguire, who said Chelsea’s wage bill was around £28 million a month, claimed in the short-term it would be business as usual but there could be problems further down the line.
“The concern might be what happens if Chelsea’s cash reserves are insufficient to pay their wage bill — but presumably the government and Premier League, who have been working on this, will have been looking at it to try to minimise disruption on a club level,” Maguire said.
Former Chelsea winger Pat Nevin told the BBC World Football Podcast that the club were in “uncharted water”.
“It’s minute-to-minute and I can promise you now, that club doesn’t know what is going to happen today, tomorrow or in a couple of days’ time,” he said.
“Once you start digging down into what this could do — yes, they can play their games but will they even be able?
“It’s not hyperbole to say the future of the club is in serious danger.”